News Coronavirus ’Rona rockstars: The STEM celebrities Australians love to follow

’Rona rockstars: The STEM celebrities Australians love to follow

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Ash Barty? Never heard of her.

Dustin Martin? Doesn’t ring any bells.

Raina MacIntyre? Now we’re talking.

As the coronavirus pandemic ground our lives to a halt, new Australian celebrities have dominated our TV screens, newspapers and radios.

And they aren’t sports stars, actors or big-name chefs. The year 2020 is all about celebrating our scientists.

As part of a joint project from the Australian Science Media Centre and Streem media monitoring, researchers ranked the people who have featured most prominently in coverage of COVID-19.

Aside from the expected names like Prime Minister Scott Morrison and state leaders like Premier Gladys Berejiklian, lesser-known academics have been stepping up and into the spotlight.

Raina MacIntyre, a professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales, was ranked the No.1 expert.

Professor Raina MacIntyre | UNSW Research
Professor Raina MacIntyre. Picture: UNSW

From the time the initial outbreak occurred in China to the end of May, Professor MacIntyre has featured in 252 COVID-19 stories.

As the leading academic, Professor Macintyre was placed ahead of prominent ABC journalist Dr Norman Swan, who recorded 207, but behind ACTU secretary Sally McManus (308) and Australian Medical Association president Dr Tony Bartone (288).

Other top academics included Professor Peter Collignon from the Australian National University, Professor Peter Doherty from the University of Melbourne and Associate Professor Ian Mackay from the University of Queensland.

Associate Professor Mackay was ranked third out of the 10 most-quoted academics.

“It’s been an honour to be able to communicate to the public so directly,” the virologist told The New Daily. 

Associate Professor Ian Mackay. Picture: UQ

“I’ve had people send me random emails saying ‘I heard you on this or I read you on that’.”

Associate Professor Mackay said his Twitter following had skyrocketed from about 10,000 to a whopping 102,000 since the pandemic began.

“It’s strange for a scientist to see that level of popularity on social media,” he said.

“Some scientists are way too busy or don’t want to communicate, but I don’t mind opening myself up to criticism. I get a lot of satisfaction out of it.”

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy recorded 2706 media appearances, more than any other public servant.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe was the only person in the top 20 to not be a politician or public health expert.

Of the top 10 institutes, the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity was No.1, followed by Australia’s leading science agency, the CSIRO, and the Grattan Institute think tank.